Living in Stasis

I’m currently living my life in stasis. 

I have about five months until I move from Texas to Washington, and so much of my day-to-day life is measured in waiting. 

I’ve done things, though. I’ve cut ties where it was necessary, purging my life of hurtful influences. I got married again, to my best friend and truest love; my wife is a greater support system than anything or anyone else could hope to be. Our old lease ended (finally), so we’ve moved in with the in-laws to save money before we leave. I managed to shrink down the entirety of my life, sharing a couple dozen small boxes with my wife. 

My writing goal has stayed mostly on target, in private. I’ve continued journaling to myself, being completely and almost painfully open about my thoughts and feelings. I’ve also been working on a fanfiction, and that project will reach its conclusion in a week or so. Having purchased an iPad, I find myself more ready and willing to write. The creative bug has bitten me, and I’m cautiously optimistic about getting involved with my own original fiction once again.

Careful management of my depression and anxiety has made it relatively easy to function 90% of the time. I have occasional relapses into that not-so-good headspace, but I remember to reach out and ask for help when I get there. The brutally honest journaling helps, because I know no one will judge me for those unseen words. It’s like talking to a silent therapist; I talk out my problems on the screen and circle them until I feel better or sometimes even solve them. 

Still, daily life is all about work, reading, writing, and sleep. I don’t socialize, nor do I spend much time actively doing anything outside of the house. 

As I said, I live in stasis.

On not truly being a “peaceful person”

I am an agent of peace, but I am not a peaceful person at heart.

You see my patience. I calmly explain things to someone, things they’ve been told before. I give second, third, and fourth chances to people who ask for them. I allow things to slide, things you might find hurtful or frustrating or infuriating.

You don’t see my violence. It’s in the way my jaw clenches when I have to repeat myself (again), the way I consciously unclench it and force my voice to remain level. It’s in the way each lie and misstep is filed away in my mind, the way those chances I give are laced with mistrust. It’s in the way I swallow pride and anger together, the way I allow words to wash over and away from me without reaction when a reaction is what they want.

I am an agent of kindness, but I am not a kind person at heart.

You see my gentleness. I accept new people into my life when they enter the lives of those who matter to me. I brush off discomfort and social awkwardness to make others feel welcomed. I speak up for giving people chances, even people who I wouldn’t be friends with outside of whatever specific situation we find ourselves in.

You don’t see my ruthlessness. It’s in the way I watch new people like a hawk, recording every mistake and bad choice in case they need to be sent away. It’s in the way I question everything about a new person, my guard always up even as I hug them close. Why would I trust someone who isn’t mine, who wasn’t brought into my life by my own choosing? It’s in the way I knowingly allow others to try and fail at life, rather than stepping in with guidance and support to get them through hard times. Sometimes I take great pleasure in someone’s failure, even as I help them stand back up.

I am an agent of calm, but I am not a calm person at heart.

You see my serenity. My voice and mind are so quiet and still, my ears open and listening to other’s opinions before making my own. I sit to myself and seem at ease, my eyes skimming a book or my phone or even the crowds around me. I hum along with the radio and let traffic just be traffic, steadily making my way to my destination without issue.

You don’t see my anxiety. I judge others on their opinions, and sometimes my silence is less about listening and more about deciding if they’re worth speaking to at all. The quiet ease I show is often a mask, as inside I’m screaming and aching or empty and lost; my depression is quiet, too, you know. My fingers tell everything to my journal, every honest and hateful thought; I filter nothing from myself, and the words I write are drenched in loathing. I move from place to place and goal to goal with very direct intent, and my decision to flow with and around life’s “traffic” is the reason I get what I want more often than not; people do my will long before they realize I want it done.

I am an agent of darkness. We all are.

I used to be so frustrated with myself. I thought I was broken, that something in me was violent and feral and nothing like my mother’s groundedness. I thought my actions meant nothing when my feelings and thoughts were so dark and negative. It took years to recognize that the choice of peace and kindness over anger and violence wasn’t meant to be easy. The good in me is the desire to continue choosing peace, to continue making the harder decision to be kind, to continue walking softly through this life. Making a choice to be peaceful when it goes against gut reactions is “being the bigger person”, struggling for maturity when instinct screams for anything but.

180,000 Words to the Void + this post

I have been a horrible blogger, but a great writer this year.

Since 2015 started, I’ve managed to write approximately 180,000 words. It all started with a goal of just a thousand words per day. I figured if I could start a real writing habit up, maybe I could get around to writing something worth sharing.

At first, it was a struggle. I’m used to self-filtering before my words tap across the keyboard; so much of my personal journals is left unsaid, because I never wanted to record the embarrassing or negative things with too much detail.

Eventually, I opened up to the honesty I was offering for myself. I promised myself that I could write *any* without guilt, because I would be the only person to see it in its original form.

The floodgates opened, and the words came flowing out of me.

I’ve started two stories, meatier than anything fiction I’ve written in years. One has around 7,000 words to it so far (mostly outline and character descriptions), and the other has around 25,000 words (including character descriptions, an outline, and several scenes so far). I say these stories are both meatier than my previous fiction attempts for a reason. They have depth. Instead of being two-dimentional attempts at a fairytale, these stories and their characters can stood up and made themselves into something. Characters told me who they wanted to be, rather than me filling in all of the blanks myself.

It feels… amazing.

Added to that, about half of the remaining words I’ve written this year are related to my spirituality. I’ve been brutally honest with myself and my thoughts, and I’ve explored deeper into my hopes and future plans than I have in ages. My own journaling has given me the ability to understand myself and voice my needs to my coven and high priestess; it’s helped me to seek out challenges I might’ve ignored before, like offering to teach classes and lead rituals without them filling any special requirements for elevation.

You haven’t really gotten to see any of this. I’ve been hiding in my little writing cave, typing away without any effort to update or share on my blog beyond an occasional “yeah, I’m still alive” post.

I’m working on things, I swear.

Due to health reasons, I never got around to being comfortable on camera and starting a YouTube channel. My skin was (and partly still is) a hot mess and a long story at that. In place of a YouTube channel (or in place of a live-action me, I should say), I’ve been exploring the possibility of doing a podcast. I don’t mind people listening to me; the speaking-for-others part isn’t the issue. This is a newer idea that I’m working on figuring out; right now, it’s a rough draft of a rough draft of an idea.

I’ve also been working on a pagan book. I’ve been using my coven’s beginner-level notes to kind of guide my outline. In the process, I’ve actually been updating the coven notes as well, but that’s a different project all together. In approaching the topics (like energywork, divination, and tools) from a teaching standpoint instead of as just a student, I’m seeing what I like and what I would change more clearly. As an initiate, I’ve considered making these notes (once updated) into my outline for a book… and then making that a personal challenge to complete. We’re all about pushing ourselves and growing into our potentials, and this feels like the right direction.

Through everything, I’m still working fulltime and trying to manage a household of adults (like herding cats AND dogs together). I’m also working on plans for moving up north to Washington state next spring. It takes a lot of planning these days to fling yourself so far from your current home; you can’t expect to just pop up, find a job and an apartment in a week or two, and get to living. Unfortunately, there are fewer jobs, a higher cost of living, and very little support if you fail to plan ahead. Good thing I’m a planner, huh!

I appreciate anyone who’s bothered to stick around and read my occasional posts. Sometimes the internet is a giant void and my words just a whisper, but it’s nice to know someone hears me time and again.

Until next time, keep breathing.

Blurred Lines – my personal gripes with Cultural Appropriation (and how I found answers)

I have a real issue with the idea of Cultural Appropriation.

I’m a white American girl with a muddled (mutt) bloodline and no family culture of my own to work within as a pagan. Too often, discussions of cultural appropriation feel uncomfortable to me. For the longest time, I’ve been uncomfortable with that discomfort, because I couldn’t place where it originated from… until yesterday.

I had an “ah ha!” moment.

The reason I don’t like the idea of cultural appropriation is due to the lack of boundaries. When I ask questions to try and determine what is and isn’t cultural appropriation, the best anyone can answer is “well, if you aren’t [fill in a culture name here], then don’t use their stuff”. That’s great… except it’s not. How does that help me to determine if my use of a practice like smudging is valid spiritual expression or lazy cultural appropriation?

Unclear lines to cross (or not cross) make for a huge discomfort in learning new practices. As someone familiar with the privileges being white can afford me, I feel hampered from spiritual exploration by my own desire not to commit an apparent cardinal sin of paganism and appropriate random things from someone else. Without clear direction, I instead get to try new things in private or not at all.

The “ah ha!” moment came to me yesterday while researching and contemplating reconstructionist Greco-Roman religion versus standard Wiccan-flavored paganism*[see footnote]. I finally found the elusive lines between respectful cultural adaptation and cultural appropriation.

Look at the Greek gods. In the ancient religion and its modern reconstruction, Hestia is honored first and last at every ritual. Solitary home practitioners are told to at least light a candle to Her before anything else is done. Hestia is the keeper of the Sacred Flame, the spark of life itself. All of the gods respect Her, so it is fully accepted (and expected) that your first words and offerings be given to Her.

Now look at a modern Wiccan-flavored pagan ritual. Tradition dictates that you call a god and a goddess for most rituals, though moon rituals (esbats) give more leeway in calling just a goddess. If a coven decides to stick with Greek gods, they may choose Zeus and Hera to call into the circle; after all, they are the King and Queen of the Gods. However, that same coven is very likely to call only Zeus and Hera. The altar may have a candle for each, as well as some image or statue. But… the likelihood of Hestia also being represented is actually pretty small.

Modern paganism doesn’t require you to follow the old ways of deity worship. It’s seen as acceptable to research a deity and then work with them alone. No one questions why someone might work with Apollo and ignore his sister Artemis and mother Leto, even though their mythology is very intertwined and nearly impossible to disassociate as a pair or group. It’s not weird to most modern pagans for you to say you work with Artemis because She called to you, yet you don’t interact with anyone else from Her pantheon.

In a way, large portions of how Wiccan-flavored paganism approaches deity worship can be seen as cultural appropriation.

The Greek culture and religion that those deities come from is alive, which means you’re borrowing from an active thing. When doing so, you should be doing enough research to know about Hestia being first and last in all things; even reading through one or two decent sources would tell you that! Choosing to skip her and work with Zeus and Hera alone, then, is purposefully ignoring the cultural and spiritual importance of Hestia to make use of other gods. It’s about convenience, not belief.

However, the line becomes more flexible in certain situations. If you are the type of pagan who believes ALL goddesses are faces of the Goddess, and ALL gods are faces of the God, and ALL gods are One… then your decision to borrow Zeus and Hera is based in your spiritual belief that they only exist as faces of the same thing; you aren’t appropriating them, so much as you are using them in accordance to your non-belief in hard polytheism.

Likewise, doing a meditation in a suana isn’t appropriation of a sweat lodge. Sure, you are using incense and steam to relax and cleanse your body and spirit. However, the idea of meditation is found in many cultures. By calling it a suana meditation and working to connect your Higher Self rather than a deity or spirit guide, you are specifically using the “universal remote” or generally applicable pieces of a sweat lodge without appropriating the full Native American ritual.

See the lines I’ve found?

  • If you know what you’re doing and why, then you aren’t culturally appropriating.
  • If your core beliefs create a place where the thing you’re doing is standard and applied to all related practices, then you aren’t culturally appropriating.
  • If you strip down a cultural idea and use the structural framework (i.e. things that all people, regardless of culture, can relate to) to develop something unique, then you aren’t culturally appropriating.

But… if you just take a thing that “sounds cool” and do very little research into what it’s actually for or about, you ARE culturally appropriating in the laziest way. It’s disrespectful to the gods and yourself.

A final guideline: If it doesn’t feel right, you shouldn’t use it. If you feel bad using a thing, examine why you feel that way. Are you honestly sure of your intent? Remember that, in magic, intent is key to everything.

* On Wiccan-flavored paganism: I use this phrase to refer to the modern, New Age paganism movement as a whole. Look in the New Age or Metaphysics section of any bookstore, and you’ll see the same kind of magickal and ritual practice over and over. God and goddess duality, elemental correspondences, altar setup and tools, and so forth. These are all done in generally the same way, with minor variations between traditions and authors. Most non-reconstructionist, non-tradition-based pagans will end up practicing something related to the Wiccan style of ritual, mostly because of its prevelance in the resources a solitary pagan has access to.

An additional note: I am personally guilty of working with deities without doing research into their pantheon, though this has happened most often in group rituals I have little or no control over. The Celtic, Welsh, and/or Gaelic pantheons (I can’t tell the difference due to lack of study) have been present in my coven’s rituals; similarly, I’ve stood in circle while someone called Loa to attend a Samhain ritual via a horse (someone prepared to be “ridden” or purposefully possessed for a short time). I point this out to remind you that no one is perfect, and most offenders aren’t aiming to be offensive. Sometimes you have no control over the ritual at hand, but when you do… try to be fully prepared and respectful of the ideas, practices, and deities you’re including in your circle.

Proudly Oathbound

The new moon of February is here, and it’s a special time. This is the time when, each year, members of my tradition retake their oaths. In my case, that means retaking both my Dedicant and First Degree oaths.

We do this as a reminder. The oaths you make along your path are important, and refreshing them annually reminds you of where you’ve come from, where you’re going, and why you’re traveling in that general direction. It lets you review your path and make changes if you’ve gotten stuck in a rut.

I realized several years ago just how seriously I take oaths, without meaning to do so on a conscious level. When I take an oath (be it a personal dedication to a goddess, a coven oath, or a marriage vow), my spirit takes in the words and treats them almost like the Aes Sedai’s oaths made on the Oath Rod; as they’re sealed onto the women themselves, so my oaths are bound to me.

[[FYI, that’s a Wheel of Time reference… probably one of the only ones I’ll make in my life.]]

Sure, I’m technically capable of ignoring an oath deliberately or accidentally. It’s physically possible for my to actively chose to ignore them. However, I just don’t. Period.

When I left my coven a few years ago, I could’ve stayed within our tradition as an initiate. However, my oaths included a promise not to teach those who were not prepared properly. For me, that meant that teaching my roommate or writing a book that could potentially teach anyone both bent that oath to breaking; it felt wrong in that context, as an oathbound initiate of a tradition. The only solution was to leave the tradition entirely, removing all oaths in the process.

Having returned a year ago to my tradition and coven, I still take my oaths as seriously as I did back then. I feel them in my bones, and they never fail to float through my mind when I consider the same things (teaching a friend, writing a book, and so forth). The difference is that, as someone seeking eventual leadership within our tradition and the pagan community at large, I know I can approach my Elders and ask for guidance regarding any projects or lessons I might want to start. I can verify that my oaths allow my actions, and I can keep my honor intact.

[[Now I’m sounding more like the Aiel. AAHHH! I haven’t read those books since the first time,]. No, seriously! Some things just stick with you, I guess…]]

Actually, this reflects my studies on Asatru and other Norse traditions; in those cultures, your honor is passed down from your ancestors and kept pristine by your honorable behavior. Breaking an oath is dishonorable, the same way breaking a promise during childhood was a betrayal of trust. Neither situation can be easily remedied, because trust and honor can’t be instantly repaired; they will always hold a residue of memory from the breaking.

As I retake my oaths tonight, standing in circle of my own free will, it will serve as a reminder that I am a child of the gods, a seeker, a student and a teacher, and above all else…

I am proudly oathbound.

What great work am I here for? – Spiritual Contemplation

I’ve been thinking about spirituality a lot lately.

Our coven is about to open for new students again, and this time feels special. It’s not so much that I’m expecting anyone in particular to join up, or that I think we’re going to cover a bunch of new ground. Rather, it’s that I feel the difference in me.

I’ve talked about this before. We (humans) are creatures of habit. We are quick to decide the truth about ourselves and then stop looking. My simplified example is your favorite color. Mine was purple when I was little, a reflection of both my love of darker tones and my birth stone. I claimed purple without any thought on every questionaire, every conversation, and every “about me” section on a profile. It wasn’t until I turn 21 or so that I realized it wasn’t true; I liked purple still, but when deciding on a single color to use for something (a new shirt, my profile text, etc.) I chose green. Green was my new favorite color, and I hadn’t even realized it.

Spirituality can be the same, sometimes. We get into this place where we’ve done some serious soul-searching and found some answers… and so we decide that’s it. The truth is A, B, and C – in that order. It comes as a somewhat unpleasant surprise, then, when the Universe tosses everything we think we know about ourselves right out the window, forcing us to start from scratch again.

What does that have to do with our coven opening up for new students?

We call the first year of lessons the Rainbow Year, because we touch on a full spectrum of subjects to give students an overview of paganism in general and more specifically an overview of our tradition. We cover things like pagan history, general practices and beliefs, gods and goddesses, tools, the wheel of the year, and so on.

For years, these lessons have felt more like mindless repetition than an exercise in learning. However, that’s completely my fault. I’ve become complacent in my beliefs, failing to examine and re-examine my path as I walk it. I’ve stopped trying to reach further and deeper when covering those fundamental lessons; instead, I’ve embraced a form of mindless boredom.

I’m done with that.

This year, I’m going to dive into our Rainbow classes as if I’ve never been there before. It’s time to rediscover who I am, who I want to be, and where I’m walking on this path of mine. Some of the new (and terrifying) truths about myself have already come out, turning me into the biggest puzzle I’ve ever faced.

To put the pieces together, I’ve come up with trackers. I’ve been journaling almost daily, with some of it remaining private just to allow the words to flow out completely unfiltered. I’m going to take notes in each class, as if I were attending a college course again; I’m going to combine them and the current notes to create what I’d consider the vital information from each lesson. I’ll be doing research to help with this, seeking out the old and the new to figure out where I stand. Throughout the process, I’ll continue to work on my pagan book project; the writing and reflection from it will fit in nicely with redefining myself.

I’m not letting 2015 go to waste, because this is the first time in a very long time that I’ve faced numbered days to reach a goal. Losing everything I’d had planned for my future lit a fire under my ass. I feel like the Universe has challenged me, again, by taking what I thought I knew about myself and turning it on its head.

What am I?
What do I believe?
What great work am I here for?

Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria – updates on living with hives

I decided to write this post after realizing that it’s been about two weeks since I last wrote about my hives. Having done hours of research myself, I know that every little bit shared has a chance of triggering someone helpful for someone else. That said, here’s my update…

Current Medications/Treatment: 

  • Prednisone – 5 day course of 60mg completed 01/22/2015
  • Benadryl – every 4-5 hours
  • Zantac – twice a day, in the morning and evening
  • Singulair – once in the evening
  • Zyrtec – once in the evening
  • Melatonin – 6mg on work nights, in the evening
  • Vitamin D – 5000IU with dinner
  • Probiotics – a daily yogurt shot, because why not?
  • Petroleum Jelly – topical in the evening

Updated Tests and Results:

I canceled a dermatologist appointment due to icy weather last week, rescheduling to see my local primary care physician (PCP) instead. The dermatologist couldn’t do anything more, as she doesn’t specialize in my type of condition. My PCP reviewed my list of medications, prescribed the prednisone, and sent in a new referral to an allergist/immunologist who specializes in asthma patients.

This referral hits a trifecta of sorts, since the doctor specializes in people just like me: allergy sufferers with asthma and unknown allergy causes. I’ll be seeing her next Friday, list of medications tried (and failed) in hand. I hear this doctor prefers skin tests to blood tests, when it comes to allergies… but she’ll have to adjust. In order to do a skin test, I’d have to remove myself from all of my medications (except the Singulair and vitamins) for a week. A week without allergy meds?!? I can’t make it six hours without something to help with the itching!

Needless to say, I’m going to strongly request blood tests for whatever allergies she thinks I might have. It’ll take longer, since the lab has to process the tests… but I’ll be more comfortable, and that matters more. I have to be able to function, to work and do chores and run errands.

My current condition is mild, compared to the last three months of torture. I have small patches of active rash on places like my chest, back, and thighs; the rest of my skin appears normal and healthy, but it’s still itchy. Petroleum jelly provides some relief, so I recognize that part of my skin itchiness is severe dryness that’s being fixed by moisturization and time.

Oh! DO NOT TRY USING OLIVE OIL! I read somewhere that olive oil could both moisturize the skin and reduce inflammation with its various good properties (especially when connected to eczema problems, supposedly). I tested it on my arm, and all seemed well. A few hours later, I did a full-body coat and let it sit for a bit… only to cause severe dryness all over, as well as an increase to the severity of my existing rashy areas (dryness exacerbated their condition). This is the second and final time I will trust someone else’s eczema treatment recommendations; I had previously tried an apple cider vinegar treatment (a year or so ago) with similar disastrous effects.

Now, even if I found myself rash-free and non-itchy by next Friday, I’d still go to the specialist. I want to know what’s caused this reaction, so I can avoid it in the future. My PCP said she thinks it might be a “perfect storm” rather than one or two allergies. In a perfect storm event, the body is exposed to a bunch of things that, one their own, don’t cause allergic reaction… but together, they overwhelm the senses and cause an allergic reaction as a team. Yay, teamwork? The specialist can more specifically test for mild allergies, the kind that my PCP wouldn’t necessarily count as an allergy in a normal situation.

I’m optimistic, though. It’s nice to avoid greasy goo in the mornings, allowing me to wear whatever clothes I want to work without worrying about stains. I get at least 6-7 hours of sleep most nights, which is improving my mood. I’m finding successful ways to de-stress and re-energize myself. All in all, I feel good (at least compared to October, November, and December).

This is all personal information, and I kind of snicker at the thought of my mom lecturing me on over-sharing. But I have to! There are so many people out there, suffering just like me. If something I’ve done or gone through can help someone else find their treatment or their cure… how could I *not* share?